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Winning Over Young Readers to Great Books

18 Dec 2008

Casuarina Pri Book Club

Casuarina Primary School book club members with Miss Asnah at the National Library.

What are a centipede, a spider, a grasshopper, a silkworm, a ladybug and a glowworm doing on the classroom table at Casuarina Primary School? Don't worry - these creepy-crawlies are just cardboard characters created by pupils after they devoured Roald Dahl's children classic, James and the Giant Peach.

And don't be surprised to see the pupils wearing funny top hats with colourful stripes while they pore over their books, for they are simply following the footsteps of the over-the-top feline in D. Seuss's tongue-twister, The Cat in the Hat. Thanks to the school's literature book club CCA especially for Pri 1 and Pri 2 pupils, even children who recently learnt English are reading and writing with gusto.

Casuarina Pri Book Club

Inspired by The Cat in the Hat, the pupils made their colourful hats.

"I like the book club because it helps me improve my English," quips Pri 1 pupil, Ng Wen Fang. You'd find it hard to believe she picked up English just a year before starting primary school. But according to her mother, Mdm Wong Fatt Ngan, "Wen Fan's English has improved so much" since she joined the book club. "And she's very passionate about reading now. I think the school is doing a wonderful job with the CCA!"

"Reading is my hobby!" chips in fellow club member and Pri 1 pupil Diyanah bte Daud Yusoof Jumad. Her mother, Mdm Murni bte Saob, adds, "Diyanah's command of English, both written and oral, has definitely improved since she joined the CCA."

"Her diction is better and she applies the vocabulary she picks up. I think the CCA is helping to build a strong foundation in Englis," Mdm Murni notes. "She's enjoying herself at the club, her attention span has improved, and she's confident about reading longer stories. Even her penmanship has improved - she received a prize for best penmanship in class!"

Casuarina Pri Book Club

Mdm Murni reads with her daughter Diyanah.

CCAs just for Pri 1 and Pri 2

"We believe in an all-rounded development of our pupils," says Miss Asnah Ahmad, teacher-in-charge of the literature book club. To give younger pupils a chance to take part in CCAs without having to vie with their older schoolmates, Casuarina Primary School initiated various CCAs, including wushu, international dance, art club and of course the literature book club. By restricting these CCAs to just Pri 1 and Pri 2 pupils, "we are better able to pitch the activities more effectively at our target group".

The literature book club began in 2007 and now has about 35 members who meet once a week. A teacher kicks off the session by reading aloud to the pupils. "This read-aloud session is a great trigger to get the pupils ready for the activities," explains Miss Asnah, who works closely with two fellow teachers-in-charge, Mdm Liza Sufahat and Mrs Sharon Ong, to plan and organise the club's activities. "It's also a good opportunity to expose them to good diction and reading."

Casuarina Pri Book Club

Mdm Wong is happy that her daughter Wen Fang is now a confident English reader.

Apart from helping to improve their vocabulary and grammar, Miss Asnah sees literature as a powerful tool to help the children develop intellectually, emotionally and socially. "The club does this by exposing them early to great works of literature by renowned children's writers such as Roald Dahl and Dr Seuss," she adds.

Going out beyond the books

The book club sessions are far from passive workouts. "We ask them for their interpretation or perception of events in the books," states Miss Asnah. "We also bring the pupils to the computer lab so they can go online to look for information about the author or review short video clips of the book." Besides engaging their minds, pupils also respond creatively by crafting top hats and insect characters from the books. "The pupils really look forward to the activities, and during the week, will ask us what we're going to do at the next session."

Casuarina Pri Book Club

Book club members checking out books all by themselves at the National Library's automated kiosks.

Twice a year, the book club heads out to the public libraries. "We want to encourage them to read widely," notes Miss Asnah. This March, the pupils visited Pasir Ris Regional Library and in November, they explored the National Library, where they learnt about public library etiquette.

"It was the first time they were visiting the National Library," says Miss Asnah, "so they were excited about everything, especially the glass lift that brought them to the tenth storey where they viewed the Legacy of Tan Kah Kee and Lee Kong Chian exhibition."

By the time the school bus returned to pick them up, the pupils had each borrowed at least two books. A kind librarian had taught them how to use the self-service kiosk, and it looks like the pupils will be back soon with their family and friends to borrow more books and check out new adventures in fiction.